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19 JANUARY 2013

Hermeneutics: where meaning is inter-subjectively created

"Hermeneutic theory is a member of the social subjectivist paradigm where meaning is inter–subjectively created, in contrast to the empirical universe of assumed scientific realism (Berthon et al. 2002). Other approaches within this paradigm are social phenomenology and ethnography. As part of the interpretative research family, hermeneutics focuses on the significance that an aspect of reality takes on for the people under study. Hermeneutics focuses on defining shared linguistic meaning for a representation or symbol.

In order to reach shared understanding as proposed in hermeneutic theory, subjects must have access to shared linguistic and interpretative resources (Marshall et al. 2001). However, hermeneutic theory also posits that linguistic meaning is likely open to infinite interpretation and reinterpretation due to the interpretative ambiguity coming from presuppositions, to the conditions of usage different from authorial intention, and to the evolution of words (Marshall et al. 2001).

Due to its interpretive nature, hermeneutics cannot be approached using a pre–determined set of criteria that is applied in a mechanical fashion (Klein et al. 1999). However, a meta–principal [sic], known as the hermeneutic circle, guides the hermeneutic approach where the process of understanding moves from parts of a whole to a global understanding of the whole and back to individual parts in an iterative manner (Klein et al. 1999). This meta–principal allows the development of a complex whole of shared meanings between subjects, or between researchers and their subjects (Klein et al. 1999).

Other co–existing principles that may help assure rigorous interpretive analysis involve: a) understanding the subject according to its social and historical context, b) assessing the historical social construction between the researcher and the subject, c) relating ideographic details to general theoretical concepts through abstraction and generalization, d) being sensitive to potential pre–conceptual theoretical contradictions between research design and actual findings, e) being aware of possible multiple interpretations among participants for a given sequence of events, and f) being conscious of potential biases or systematic distortions in the subject's narratives (Klein et al. 1999)."

(IS Theory, 15 November 2011, Information Systems PhD Preparation Program of the Marriott School of Management of Brigham Young University)


abstraction and generalisation • biases • Brigham Young University • empirical universe • ethnography • evolution of words • global understanding • Heinz Klein • hermeneutic approach • hermeneutic circlehermeneutic theoryhermeneuticshermeneutische Spiralehermeneutischer Zirkel • historical social construction • ideographic details • infinite interpretation • inter-subjective • interpretation • interpretative ambiguity • interpretive nature • interpretive researchintersubjectivityiterative cycle • iterative manner • linguistic meaning • meaning • meta-principle • Michael Myers • multiple interpretations • Nick Marshall • phenomenology • pre-conceptual theoretical contradictions • presuppositions • realityreflexivityreinterpretation • rigorous interpretive analysis • scientific realism • shared interpretative resources • shared linguistic • shared linguistic meaning • shared meaningsshared understanding • social and historical context • social phenomenology • social subjectivism • social subjectivist paradigm • systematic distortions • theoretical concepts • theoretical contradictions • Tim Brady • understanding


Simon Perkins
03 APRIL 2010

Interpretive research is knowledge that is gained, or at least filtered, through social constructions such as language, consciousness, and shared meanings

"Following Klein & Myers (1999), the foundation assumption for interpretive research is that knowledge is gained, or at least filtered, through social constructions such as language, consciousness, and shared meanings. In addition to the emphasis on the socially constructed nature of reality, interpretive research acknowledges the intimate relationship between the researcher and what is being explored, and the situational constraints shaping this process. In terms of methodology, interpretive research does not predefine dependent or independent variables, does not set out to test hypotheses, but aims to produce an understanding of the social context of the phenomenon and the process whereby the phenomenon influences and is influenced by the social context (Walsham, 1995)."

(Bruce H. Rowlands, 2005)

ISSN 1477–7029 81 ©Academic Conferences Ltd Reference this paper as: Rowlands B (2005) 'Grounded in Practice: Using Interpretive Research to Build Theory' The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methodology Volume 3 Issue 1, pp 81–92, available online at

Klein, H., & Myers, M., (1999), 'A Set of Principals for Conducting and Evaluating Interpretive Field Studies in Information Systems', MIS Quarterly, Vol 23, No 1, pp 67–94.

Walsham, G., (1995), 'Interpretive Case Studies in IS Research: Nature and Method', European Journal of Information Systems, Vol 4. No 2, pp.74–81.



Simon Perkins

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